They are beautiful, unblemished lives. But sometimes I think that when we deny what is worst about ourselves, we also deny what is best. We repress our ignorance, and thus we deny our capacity to learn. We repress our faults, and thus we deny our capacity to change. We forget that it is our flawed human self, and not our avatar, who creates things and reconsiders and forgives and shows mercy.
So today, I would like to pause for a moment to appreciate the parts of you that you don’t put online. I would like to mount a defense of them. Of your boring, internal, book-reading, dishwashing, thought-having life. Of the parts of you that can’t be captured by any technological medium. It’s a concept that I’m going to call “the un-instagramable self.”
Here’s something I truly believe: everything of any significance that you will do in your life will be done by your un-instagramable self. It is, for example, your un-instagramable self who is graduating today. I say this with confidence because I’ve yet to see a Facebook or Instagram account which is dedicated to photos of someone studying or attending lectures or writing essays. -Tara Westover, Northeastern University Commencement Speech (2019)
Tara Westover and her accomplishments are inspiring. Her book, “Educated” was profound and heartbreaking. When I was “researching” her via Google after finishing the book, I found this commencement speech she made at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts in 2019.
The quotes above are the heart of the speech. That we have three “identities.” Who we are when we are alone with ourselves and our thoughts, who we are with others, and nowadays, who we project ourselves to be online, our virtual avatars.
The speech is about being kind to ourselves and to the parts of us that struggle, that are afraid, and that grieves. She urges these newly-minted graduates to thank their un-instagrammable self. You are who you are because of it. That self is the one who carries on day-after-day through the slog of work, or the challenges of parenting, or the rough drafts of your “work in progress.”
Don’t lose heart.
Be kind to yourself.
Keep at it.
You can do this!
A transcript of Tara Westover’s complete commencement speech can be found on Northeastern’s website here.